A New Novel in the Making
I'm working on a new novel. Here's the first chapter of it. Let me know what you think about it. You find a Facebook comment form below the text. I post each new chapter when it is completed.
Light and Dark
Thomas sleeps in his narrow bed. He lies on his back, his thin arms extended alongside his body, but on top of the blanket. His mouth is open, his breathing irregular. Short inhalations and exhalations make a noise similar to sandpaper on wood, with long pauses between them.
Although his face is still that of a fifteen year old boy, it seems to be transforming into one of a skull. It is so skinny that his cheeks have all but disappeared and his cracked lips press on the teeth, unable to cover them. His cheek bones stick out, as if aiming to pierce through the skin. The colors of his skin have faded. It is not wrinkled, but dry as paper. His brown hair is also dry and thin, keeping its color but losing its shine, receding up his forehead.
His arms are no less pale and skinny than his face. They reveal as much of the skeleton beneath the skin as if he had been starving. The silhouette of his body under the blanket reveals the same. He seems unable to ever get out of the bed. The only thing moving on him is the chest, up and down at each short breath.
The room is dark, except for the lamp on the desk, which is directed at the pin board on the wall. It is covered with photos. Those of Thomas show him in a very different shape from presently on the bed. A vigorous body, thick hair in undisciplined curls, full cheeks and lips, the latter often parted in a wide smile, his skin tanned, his eyes glaring amused into the camera.
In the shade outside the beam of the lamp, colors are grayish. The few pieces of furniture in the small room are little more than silhouettes. The colorful posters on the walls are reduced to shades of dark grey. His skin is so pale, though, that it reflects what little of the lamplight reaches it, making his face seem slightly fluorescent.
So, that is the very first thing his twin sister Caroline spots, when quietly entering the room.
She carefully closes the door behind her, grabs the chair by the desk and sits down next to the bed. Her eyes are stuck on Thomas' face. Moving her hands unconsciously, she traps her long brown hair behind her ears. Then the hands meet on her lap. The fingers hook.
“Thomas, are you sleeping?” she asks with a voice so low it's almost a whisper.
There's no response at all and no reaction in his face. Caroline waits.
She notices the irregular movement of his chest and listens to his breathing. Unconsciously, she starts to breathe the same way – sudden short inhalations and exhalations with long breaks in between, as if each time the lungs forget how to do it. But after a while it becomes exhausting and she snaps out of it. She lifts her eyes from Thomas and takes a deep breath.
Her eyes land on the pin board with all the photos. She can't see them very clearly at that distance, but she doesn't have to. She has seen them many times before. In several of the photos, she is next to him. There, they are very much alike, especially in the pictures from early childhood.
“Oh Thomas, you'll never be the same again, will you?” She doesn't check on him when saying it, expecting no answer. “I should look at the pictures, instead. That's how I want to remember you. That's who you are.”
Reluctantly, she struggles to turn her head back to Thomas in the bed. Again she fixes her hair, although it remains behind the ears. But this time one of her hands continues its downward movement until it lands on the bed, next to Thomas' skinny arm. She doesn't touch it, but her fingers move impatiently on the spot.
“So much to say. I don't know what, but I know I will think of it when...”
Caroline interrupts herself by suddenly closing her mouth. She blinks once, twice.
“All these months, I refused to think of this moment. We all did. You too, I guess. Mom and dad, certainly. They still do.”
A short frown slips out of Caroline and her hand on the bed clenches into a fist, shortly. When it opens again, the top of her middle finger touches Thomas' arm, ever so lightly. She shivers and blinks again.
“Now it's too late, isn't it? You're not waking up again, are you?”
This time she stares attentively at his face, examining it for any reaction. There is none. Her shoulders drop as she sighs and turns her face away.
“Twins are supposed to be companions for life, you know. Being there for each other through thick and thin. Enjoy each other's success, cry at each other's failure. Sharing it all, year after year after year. Without you I'll just be half of that... The wrong half, some would say.”
Her ring finger sneaks up and touches Thomas' arm, then the index finger. Caroline watches the progress in silence, until her whole hand lies on top of his arm, like a cat rests on a warm surface.
“A future without you scares me. Not that we hung out much right before this, but we didn't need to. The connection was never broken. Do you think it will be, when you...”
She stops herself. Her hand lifts minutely from Thomas' arm, but soon settles on it again.
“I'm no good at this,” she frowns. “So how bad will it be? Every morning, not rushing to get to the bathroom first. Every breakfast and dinner, no one to tease to break the silence. And school! All the classes we share. I bet they'll treat me like a leper, out of respect. Actually, they already kind of do. Maybe they're afraid I've got it, too.”
A twisted smile makes a quick appearance on her face.
“Ryan White didn't make them any wiser. While he lived, perhaps, but no longer. There's so much fear. Panic.”
She looks at her hand on Thomas' arm.
“I felt it, too. I'm sorry.” She squeezes his arm, very gently. “In the beginning, I was afraid to touch you. So stupid. I wanted to hide it, but I saw that you noticed. Of course you did. I was so embarrassed, I just couldn't talk about it. Even when I learned how it works, it took me a while. I'm sorry.”
She glances at Thomas' face, waiting shortly for a reaction that doesn't come. Nothing on him moves but the chest, and the only sound he makes is from his troubled breathing.
“I got over it. Mom and dad did, too, eventually. Mom, anyway. You were so nice never to mention it. Thank you, Thomas.” She fixes her hair again, with her free hand. “I wonder how Christmas will be. And birthdays! Oh, I hope they forget about birthdays. They've always been weird, anyway. Blowing out the candles on the cake together and all that. It's strange to share birthdays, like we're Siamese twins. Like we're two halves.”
She pauses a moment to reflect.
“Are we?” she wonders, looking back at the pin board photos by the desk. “Maybe like branches on the same tree, slowly growing more and more apart.”
Her eyes move on to two movie posters on the wall above the head of the bed. Although their colors are blurred in the shade, she can see them quite clearly. One is Batman, with the bat sign on a background that is black in any light, and the other is E.T. with glowing white letters and fingers touching. The far wall has a poster of the band Queen in unusually somber clothes and poses, and one from the movie Rain Man, showing Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise calmly walking down a street.
“Quite far apart,” Caroline mumbles with something close to a smile. “Sure, that's inevitable. But what happens when one branch is cut off? Will the other one know how to grow, where to go? Or will it be lost without the missing branch, bending back to search for it or even trying to take its place?”
She looks at her brother's arm, where her hand rests on it. The healthy color of her skin makes it much less visible in the dim light than the pale arm beneath it.
“You know what they say about people who got an arm or a leg amputated. They feel it, like it's still there. I bet that's exactly how I'll feel. Like you're still there, just invisible. And silent. Like a hole, not a person. I'm not sure I'll like it. But I'm not sure I'd like it better without that hole.” She pauses shortly, as if to take a breath, but continues before doing so. “What I fear the most is to forget you.”
Now she takes that breath, deeply, and leans back – but not more than that she can keep her hand on Thomas' arm.
“You see, Thomas. I'll always be a twin. No matter what.”
She is completely caught by surprise when Thomas' arm twitches, so that her hand falls off, and then immediately he grabs it. Caroline barely manages to restrain from pulling her hand away. The grip is hard, much stronger than his thin arm seems able. He lifts his head from the pillow and opens his eyes.
“Thomas, what is it?”
Their eyes meet, but he stares right through her. In his next short exhalation he utters:
The voice is not loud, but clear. Like an announcement. Next, his head falls back on the pillow as he closes his eyes.
He looks peaceful, with a vague smile on his thin lips. He is still holding on to Caroline’s hand, but with much less force. It's soft, like an embrace. His chest has stopped moving.
Tears emerge from Caroline's eyes, as she gazes at her brother and gently squeezes his hand. With her free hand she quickly fixes her hair on both sides, this time because it has fallen in front of her face, like curtains.
“Oh, Thomas, Thomas! I guess you're at peace now.”
Then his grip slips and his hand falls flat on the bed.
Caroline is about to stand up when his eyes suddenly open wide and he stares right at the ceiling. His face changes into a twisted expression of pure horror. Shock and horror. Mouth gaping, every muscle in his face tense. The expression is stuck on his face, as if frozen.
Caroline stares at it. Unconsciously, her own face mimics its expression, turning as pale as that of her brother. She starts to pant. She lifts her hand from the bed, halting it in midair. Then she jumps to her feet and rushes out of the room.
All the chapters posted so far: